Srinagar: Last year, Shazia (name changed) was desperately waiting to embrace motherhood.
However, she was unprepared for the events that followed the birth of the baby. “In August, I delivered my baby girl. I was more than happy because I was praying for the baby girl all along. But soon the joy turned into gloomy days. I never anticipated what was in store,” she said.
Shazia felt an inexplicable darkness grip her heart. A strange rage and sadness washed over her heart. Unable to understand her altered emotional state, she held the baby responsible for it and even contemplated killing it. Doctors diagnosed her with postpartum depression.
“Who can forget those sleepless nights? I cried without any rhyme or reason. The thoughts of harm to my baby intruded me repeatedly. I have had bouts of anger and irritability without any reason. I shouted at my parents and partner without knowing why? I knew I needed help but couldn’t ask for one,” she said.
The depressive symptoms continued for ten months till she finally sought the help of a clinical psychologist.
“We need to work on making people understand that postpartum depression is a real thing and the feelings of mother need to be acknowledged and that there is no shame in asking for help,” she said.
Shazia is not an isolated case. Asma (name-changed) recalls how motherhood became a testing phase for her.
“I hit a deep, dark space where everything became meaningless. I used to cry for hours together as I struggled to form a bond with the baby. Sometimes, the self-loathing reached such an extent that I felt I am doing a grave injustice to both my partner and baby,” she said.
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects one in every seven new mothers in Kashmir. What begins as insecurity, usually within 30 days of the baby’s birth, rapidly expands to other symptoms that typically include sadness or anxiousness through the day that often worsens in the evening; crying spells; low self-esteem; lethargy, and sleeplessness.
“Once you deliver a baby, more responsibilities come along. The physical and emotional demands of childbearing and child caring increase. Due to this, some women get stressed, anxious, irritable, and confused, resulting in baby blues. The baby blues remain for the first ten-fifteen days after the delivery. However, if it continues for more than two weeks, we can call it postpartum depression,” a senior clinical Psychologist at IMHANS, Kashmir said.
She explained that the symptoms of postpartum depression include: suicidal ideations, thoughts of harming the baby, low appetite, crying spells, feelings of inadequacy, isolation, severe mood swings, and difficulty in forging a bond with the baby.
“In 4 percent of the females, the PPD can develop into Postpartum psychosis. The symptoms can result in hallucinations, delusions, and intense suicidal inclinations,” the psychologist said.
She said most of the women with PDD don’t seek medical help.
“Mental health is already stigmatized in the valley, thus stopping women from reaching out to professional help. Further, with the exciting phase like motherhood, in which the mother is dealing with the newborn, with hormonal shift, and battling body-image issues, PDD is easily confused as normal baby blues.”
The psychologist stressed that renewed focus should be laid on PDD awareness.
“It is important to have honest conversations on the positive and negative aspects of motherhood. This will help the would-be mother develop a deeper understanding of what the future holds and work on fighting the stigma and sexism surrounding parenthood. The false bravado and the idea of being a perfect mother should go,” she said.